Prateik Babbar, who plays the charming bartender in Four More Shots Please!, spoke to Film Companion about his upcoming release, India Lockdown. He described it as an emotionally “heavy” process and cited his mother Smita Patil’s films as references for his role. Next year, Babbar will be seen in a romantic comedy with his on-screen partner from Four More Shots, Sayani Gupta (he freely admitted she’s his favourite from the show’s cast). Expect an “explosion” of Prateik Babbar 2.0 next year, said the actor while talking to us. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation:
What about India Lockdown appealed to you?
Many things appealed to me actually. One was the character. I had never portrayed a rural character before, a migrant worker. Madhur Bhandarkar, of course, a National Award winner and Padma Shri receiver. And the story itself. We were all a part of the angst, confusion and anxiety of the lockdown. I felt like the shelf life for this film and story will be forever because it was important for this time to be documented. Mr Bhandarkar, the genius that he is, jumped at the opportunity. Playing a migrant worker is a huge responsibility to represent that community. I really wanted to give it my all and leave no stone unturned. Make sure I was representing them with the utmost sincerity and honesty. It was a challenge, and I look for a challenge as an actor. Those are the few things that excited me about the film, but it was more about being part of a story like this where all of us are so connected.
What was the emotional journey like?
It was very heavy. But it was also a reminder of how blessed and privileged we are to have a roof over our heads, and a meal whenever we want. It humbled me every single day.
How did you prepare for the role?
I watched some reference films that Mr Bhandarkar asked me to watch. I watched a few of my mother’s films. I watched Aakrosh (1980), Chakra (1981), Do Bigha Zameen (1953), Ankur (1974) and a lot of films where the male protagonist goes through a struggle. It was important for me to understand that struggle visually. Before we started shooting, we met a few migrant workers in the bastis (slums) of Ghatkopar and sat down and had a heart-to-heart with them… but just very generic. I didn't want to offend anybody. I just wanted to understand how they live their daily, mundane lives, how they speak to each other, what makes them happy and observe their body language. I was a very keen observer. I think the rest was Mr Bhandarkar’s magic. Once I was in costume and makeup, I think half my job was done. We also had an accent coach on set. There was a fair bit of preparation. Ultimately, I just surrendered to Mr Bhandarkar. It was a very enriching journey.
What did you learn from your mother’s films?
Chakra was the film in which I was really observing my mother. In every character that she has played, you cannot see Smita Patil. You see a character and everything that person is going through. With these rural characters, she was extremely dignified in her performance and in living that life.
You had to change your accent in Bachchan Pandey and India Lockdown. Which was more challenging?
I can’t really differentiate between the two because they were quite similar. One was Awadhi and one was Bihari. It was quite different from the Bambaiya Hindi we speak. Both of them were quite challenging for me, they’re easy to understand but difficult to speak. I hope I’ve done justice to the language.
Each of the three seasons of Four More Shots Please! has been directed by separate individuals. Whose direction worked the best for you?
Each director had their own magic, but I think Joyeeta (Patpatia) understood us a little better because she was more our age. Anu (Menon) ma’am and Nupur (Asthana) ma’am are a little older. They did justice to both their seasons, to take nothing away from them. But Joyeeta understood our vibe a little better, she was the missing link, a missing piece of the puzzle. She delivered better than anybody expected. Season 3 is the best season yet.
What does Joyeeta Patpatia being closer in age mean for the story?
I think because she is of a similar age, she knows how to manoeuvre. Not that Nupur and Anu weren’t, I just think it’s also a similar playing field. With Nupur ma’am and Anu ma’am, it was a little bit of a senior effect, if I may. They were seniors and we were juniors and a little bit of a student-teacher relationship with Anu and Nupur. With Joyeeta, it was a fair playing field, we were all students. She understood that and made the most of it.